Black House, Woodhouse Hill, Fartown Green

GEOGRAPHIC STUB
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Details

  • also known as: Blackhouse
  • appears on maps: 1892 [#12], 1905 [#72]
  • location on map: off Woodhouse Hill, Fartown Green
  • status: partially still exists
  • category: property

According to newspaper stories, Black House the home of a miser known as "Johnny Steele"[1] who "inherited considerable wealth from his parents". In 1842, half-a-dozen men forced their way into the house and stole the old oak chest which contained all of Steele's money.[2] It was speculated that a coin hoard found in a field near Storth Farm in January 1862 might be from the robbery.[3]

Historic England Listing

  • Grade II
  • first listed 29 September 1978
  • listing entry number 1066570
WOODHOUSE HILL (North Side). Nos 1 and 3. 1787. Painted hammer dressed stone. Pitched stone slate roof. Two storeys. Two ranges of 4-light casements with sashes. Probably Blackhouse, whose existence was documented in 1523, and (according to a now vanished date stone) was rebuilt in 1787

Discovering Old Huddersfield

Extract from Discovering Old Huddersfield (1993-2002) by Gordon & Enid Minter:

At the bottom of Woodhouse Hill, on the left, notice a white cottage with a blocked up doorway at the left hand end. This is all that remains of Blackhouse part of which was demolished in the early years of this century when the road was widened. The earliest mention of Blackhouse is found in the Subsidy Roll of 1523 which records that Edward Brook of Blakhouse paid one shilling tax on goods worth two pounds. The Brooks continued at Blackhouse until the mid eighteenth century when William Steel, who married a Brook daughter, took up the tenancy. The remaining cottage is, as my be seen, typical of the mid eighteenth century and it is likely that Steel, when he moved in, modernised or rebuilt the old house.

William Steel, an arch opponent of the Luddites and the Trade Union Movement, was a successful fanner who through hard work, diligence and parsimony amassed a considerable fortune. When he died in 1828 he was succeeded as tenant of Blackhouse by his son, John. Even more miserly than his father, John Steel was the victim of a notorious robbery which for several years afterwards was the talk of the neighbourhood. A retrospective account of the crime was published in the Huddersfield Chronicle on 2nd March 1912 and, as we pass Blackhouse, it is worth summarising.

Johnny Steel, as he was known, was an eccentric character who, having no faith in banks, insisted on keeping his vast fortune at Blackhouse where he could see it and, perhaps, regularly count it. He hoarded it, in fact, in an oak chest fastened with heavy iron bands and secured by several padlocks. His friends warned him several times that he might be robbed but he believed that the chest was too secure to be broken open and too heavy to be carried away. As added security he had a gun which he said he would make speak to any intruder. Johnny was content.

Unfortunately, he did not allow for a gang of men from Deighton who, with blackened faces, broke into Blackhouse one night in 1842. Disturbed, Johnny did indeed make his gun speak, once, but without effect and before he could reload he and his housekeeper were overcome. The intruders attacked the chest with sledge hammers and crowbars and soon had it open. The booty was a rich one and the thieves made off into the night carrying a fortune in gold and silver coins. The oak chest they left behind. One of the robbers who had filled his hat with gold coins was less fortunate than the rest as the hat split spilling the contents on the ground. As it was dark and he was, naturally, in a hurry he was unable to retrieve his ill gotten gains. For years afterwards it was whispered that one or two of the town's successful businesses were founded on money retrieved from the roadside in the days following the robbery.

Some days after the raid the robbers met in a secret place and shared their loot by measuring it out in a pewter pint pot they had stolen from an inn in Deighton. That done, the thieves made haste to leave the country. One man, Robert Peel, succeeded in reaching Liverpool from where he made his escape to America. The others went together to Hull and, after making arrangements for sailing, decided to have one last drink in an English inn. Unwisely, one of them loudly proposed a toast to the old oak chest and the pewter pint pot. The landlord, who had read about the robbery in the newspaper, sent for the police. The villains were arrested, taken to York for trial, found guilty and sentenced to transportation across the seas for life.

After the robbery Johnny Steel left Blackhouse to live at nearby Fieldhouse Green. Towards the end of his life he took to strolling along the canal bank behind Fieldhouse where he would look towards Deighton and loudly deplore the behaviour of 'those Deighton thieves'. He died, aged eighty, in 1860. Two years after his death a man digging in a field at Storths in Birkby found, underneath a large flat stone, an iron posnit (a small cooking vessel with feet and a handle) containing five hundred guineas. It was widely believed at the time that the money was part of Johnny Steel's fortune.

Of the men transported to Australia the fate of only one is known because he managed, against all the odds, to escape. Ned Lumb, a Deighton man, deciding that the hardship of a convict's life was not for him, schemed with six others to capture a suitable vessel when the opportunity arose and sail to freedom. The escape was successful, the small fast boat they had commandeered outsailing all pursuing craft. Unfortunately for them, several days out of Australia, a storm overtook them and their boat was wrecked near the rocky shore of an uninhabited island. Four of the fugitives drowned in the wreck but the other three, who included Ned Lumb, managed to scramble ashore. Shortly afterwards one of the three died and, having no food, the two survivors only managed to stay alive by eating their dead companion.

When a party of less than friendly natives landed on the island the two took to the sea again in a small rowing boat that had been washed ashore from the wreck. After several days in the open boat without food and water their situation was desperate and they were close to death. Almost at the last minute they were spotted by the crew of an East Indiaman on passage to Calcutta and taken aboard. From Calcutta Ned Lumb worked his passage to London from where he made his way to his family home in Deighton. His mother was amazed and delighted to see the son she had believed lost to her forever but her pleasure soon turned to apprehension when Ned recklessly insisted on meeting his old cronies and regaling them with the story of his remarkable adventures. Realising the secret of Ned's presence could not be kept, his mother eventually persuaded him that he had no future in England and three weeks after his dramatic return Ned left for Liverpool in the hope of taking ship for America. It is here that the newspaper account ends. Two other reports, current at the time, are vague and contradictory. One says that he was arrested at the dockside and transported to Australia again, the other that he succeeded in reaching America where he became a wealthy and respected citizen.

Further Reading

Location

Notes and References

  1. Named as farmer John Steel (aged 60) in the 1841 Census, who resided at Black House with his servant Ann Idale (aged 43).
  2. "Fact Stranger than Fiction" in Yorkshire Gazette (10/Sep/1892).
  3. "Discovery of Concealed Treasure" in Huddersfield Chronicle (01/Feb/1862).

Black House, Woodhouse Hill, Fartown Green

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This page was last modified on 20 March 2018 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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